I recently moved to Seattle from the Washington D.C. area. There are many things I love about my new home that my old home did not have.
Long-time Seattleites may kill me for saying this, but a relatively temperate summer is one of those things! Seriously though, DC was 107 degrees with 100% humidity the week after we left so you can hardly blame me for preferring this cool Pacific Northwest summer. I’m sure in 9 months I will be singing a different tune.
I am not here to talk to you about the weather though. I am here to talk to you about blackberries. Blackberries – growing wild! in my yard! along the road in our neighborhood! everywhere! – are high on the list of things I love about Seattle so far. For people who have lived here for years the novelty of such an abundance of sweet, juicy wild blackberries has perhaps worn off, but I’m not there yet and hope to never be.
The thing about blackberries (if you’re picking them wild instead of simply buying a pint of them at the grocery store) is that they really make you work for it. Blackberries are nature’s illustration of the phrase “no pain, no gain.” The small bush in my yard didn’t give me very much trouble, but it was quite a different story when my boyfriend and I took the dog to the neighborhood blackberry mecca to do some serious picking.
The long bush that stretches almost an entire block of our neighborhood was heavy with the glistening purple orbs and we plunged right in – me with both hands, him with one – his other hand holding on to the dog who was disinterestedly sniffing the ground nearby. This was a mistake, as it turns out. We both got stabbed by the bush’s thorns almost immediately – and those thorns are not insubstantial I can tell you. There was much groaning, squealing, cursing and jumping around.
At one point we were both almost completely ensnared by the bush, like two flies tangled in a spider’s web, and the more we tried to wiggle our way out the worse it got. This got the dog momentarily interested, but he was really no help in getting us free. Nevertheless, we were so enthusiastic about all the potential blackberries (dangling there…just out of our reach!) that we continued picking through it all. But man did those suckers hurt. And by the time we returned home – shirts torn, pinpricks all over our hands and arms, fingers stained purple – we really felt like we had earned those berries. We felt victorious.
So after all this effort I’ve been trying to make the best of our blackberry harvest. I’ve put blackberries on my morning granola, I’ve had them alongside a weekend brunch of eggs and biscuits and I’ve course eaten them straight and unadorned by the handful. What I made with them this week seemed worth writing home about though – I hope you will agree.
These are mini blackberry tarts (I REALLY love miniature things, I should warn you now) with pastry cream and lemon curd. The recipe is based very loosely on this one from Better Homes and Gardens of all places. But, I made my own crust using a recipe from Smitten Kitchen, and my own lemon curd and pastry cream using recipes from Ina Garten instead of store-bought lemon curd and cream cheese.
The results were delectable! I hope that if you live somewhere where you can pick fresh blackberries you give these tarts a try. Of course, you can make them even if you buy your blackberries at a store or farmer’s market and I’m sure they will be delicious, but the taste of victory may not be quite as sweet…
Lemon-Blackberry Mini Tarts
Makes 4 mini tarts – or 2 mini tarts and 8 muffin-sized tarts if you don’t have 4 mini tart pans (like me)
Most of the recipes I looked at recommend refrigerating the tarts once you put the filling in. I was too impatient to do this. I didn’t put the elements in hot though, they need to be at least room temperature or the tarts would be too runny.
- 1 recipe Smitten Kitchen’s Sweet Tart Shell crust
- 1 recipe Ina Garten’s Pastry Cream
- Notes: I omitted the Cognac and upped the vanilla to a full teaspoon. I also used yolks from large eggs instead of extra-large and it still worked out just fine!
- 1/2 recipe Ina Garten’s Lemon Curd
- Notes: Mine separated badly while I was mixing all the ingredients together (before I even got it onto the stove). Ina mentioned nothing about this and I thought I had ruined it, but I hadn’t! So don’t worry if yours does the same – just whisk it vigorously as it heats up on the stove and it will come back together.
- 1 cup fresh blackberries
- 2 tbsp seedless blackberry or apricot jelly (optional)
- 2 tsp lemon juice (optional)
To assemble tarts: Once crust and fillings are cooled to room temperature (or chilled in the refrigerator), spoon pastry cream into tart shells and spread with the back of a spoon until even (I used 2-3 tbsp in my mini tarts, less in the muffin-sized tarts).
Then spoon a smaller amount (~1 tbsp) of lemon curd on top of the pastry cream and spread out with the back of a spoon until even – use a light touch here to create a separate layer of lemon curd, instead of mixing the pastry cream and lemon curd together.
Top the tarts with blackberries. I arranged mine in two concentric circles, berries top down, but they would still taste the same if you just wanted to throw the blackberries on the top and call it a day!
Optionally, you can heat the jelly and lemon juice (just until the jelly melts and combines with the juice) and brush on the top of the tarts. This gives the tarts a nice shiny look – like in a professional bakery. I didn’t do this, because my kitchen is not a professional bakery and my mouth was watering by this point, but if you serve these to guests it would be a nice touch.
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